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Follow our progress running the nursery, watching wild bees, keeping honey bees and creating our own bee-haven in south Oxfordshire

Update from the hives: Feb '13

Finally some milder weather; wahoo!  On Friday it was a balmy 9 degrees at rosybee so we took the opportunity to have a quick peek at the bees; only taking the roof off to see as far as ekes we have put above the queen excluder as a space for extra food. It all good news: all four hive have made it through the winter although with differing levels of activity.

All but one had been eating the fondant (see above) we gave them at Christmas and one hive had completely finished their block so we gave them a bit more. There were not many bees flying but we did see a couple of bees carrying bright orange pollen (see picture left) into the hives which is a sure sign that their queen has started laying and they need the pollen to feed the babies.

wpid-3005701.jpgThe one hive that had not touched its fondant probably has plenty of honey as the hive still has some weight to it. However this may mean that their numbers are greatly reduced, hence why they have not consumed so much, therefore we will keep an eye on then just case.

Dont do too much weeding!

In winter time almost all perennials look terrible; they carry last years now dead leaves, flop on top of each other and then get covered with tree leaves to give the overall impression of grey/brown mess.  Tidy gardeners may have gone round at the end of Autumn cutting back old growth and clearing the debris into the compost bin. Others may leave this job till spring, which provides more cover for insects and small rodents but does mean you have to live with a mess.  I tend to be in the latter camp but mainly so that I don't accidentally destroy all the self-seeded little wonders that are the plants natural renewal process. A few of the plants I sell are either annuals, biennials or short-lived perennials which rely on setting seed to replace the old plants. These include the cheiranthus (wild wallflower) - pictured above -  echium vulgare and borage. All fabulous bee-plants in their way so you do not want too loose them in the tidying process.

The cheiranthus produces many small seedlings at the base of the old woody plant, so they are quite easy to find if you leave the woody stalk in as a marker. They are dark green glossy stars and just need to be slightly thinned to 10cm (3inches) apart to encourage nice bushy plants.IMG_0280

The echiums (pictured left) look terrible after their first year and you could be forgiven to thinking they were some terrible thistly weed so I provide this picture to aid their identification if you have forgotten what you planted. Have faith and by summer they will transform into blue spires that provide nectar all day long.

Similarly, borage (below)can also be mistaken for a weed in winter. It sets seed very reliably but by mid winter the leave may well have become a bit tatty; see this picture from my garden where I think the rabbits have been helping themselves to the tasty leaves.  You may remember where you had the borage planted, and the seedlings will be within 30 cm of the where the parent plant was but that may now have rotted completely away. If you are likely to have trouble remembering you might want to find the seedlings in October and lable them if there is a risk your hoe will get them.

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Propogation for next season

We raise much of the rosybee stock from seed and then supplement this by buying in cuttings and some additional plugs for varieties that we don't yet propagate ourselves.  The germination takes place in the greenhouse next to our house as its much easier to control the temperatures here. This picture shows the hot bench all covered with cell trays containing chieranthus, malvas, scabious, geraniums and oxeye daisy. The propagation process starts in September and we continue to germinate seeds through to November for any species that will take 6 months to grow big enough to sell.  Then we we sow the quick growing ones, such as any annuals, end of February and through March which a bit of light and heat to get them going.

Checking the bees mid-winter

Over the Christmas period it was so mild that the temperature rose above 10 degrees on several days so we decided we would take a peek and see how the ladies were doing.  So we made our plans and just waited till the wind dropped. The plan was to check food supplies and also administer the dreaded oxalix acid- as per BBKA news advice - before they start laying and the larvae might be damaged. We ended the season with three hives but one was a merge of two that were in trouble and we knew they hadnt put away as much sugar syrup as the other two. Sure enough the hive was lighter and as soon as we lifted off the roof we could see lots of them coming out of the crown board. Apparently this is the classic sign of hungry winter bees; they leave the wamrth of the bee-ball in the brood box and search the entire hive for food.  Actually they did still have some fondant but we have them another couple of blocks placed in the eke directly above the brood box.

The other two hives were behaving as you would wish; all quiet when you open the lid and hunkered down in the brood box.  Hopefully all  three colonies will make it through winter ok.